Building Safe Water Facilities


March 4, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jeremy Barnicle/Mercy Corps  </span>
    This Somali woman and her family are benefiting from a Mercy Corps project that hires local workers to build levees. The project protects her village from flooding, allows crops to reach maturity – and puts much-needed wages in the hands of the most vulnerable households so they can buy food, clothes and other necessities. Photo: Jeremy Barnicle/Mercy Corps
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Ask a community in crisis what it needs to rebuild, and clean water will be at the top of the list. Safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene are the very foundations of human health and community development. Mercy Corps emphasizes all three in our relief and recovery initiatives. What’s distinct about our approach is that we hire local residents to construct the water facilities they require.

We work with communities to identify their priorities. We then supply the daily wages that enable people to support their families with dignity and gain a stake in their own futures while building vital infrastructure such as wells and latrines. Our cash-for-work approach creates jobs and infuses badly needed currency into local economies.

Mercy Corps projects are bringing life-giving water and healthier sanitation to communities in Guatemala, Sudan, Tajikistan, Zimbabwe – and Somalia, an extremely poor “failed state” where tremendous numbers of people have been displaced by violence. In helping Somalis build potable water and sanitation facilities, Mercy Corps is enabling people to survive, reducing the water-access issues that represent sources of conflict, and freeing communities to take the next steps in rebuilding their lives.

We are working in five districts of southern Somalia. Through our large cash-for-work program, we have employed area workers to build 34 wells and 1,300 family and 350 communal latrines. We also conduct hygiene education campaigns to prevent diarrhea (which kills more than 1.4 million children worldwide each year) and other preventable waterborne illnesses. We have taught safe hygiene and sanitation practices to 8,000 households. In places that lack government support, we also teach communities how to set priorities, make plans and implement projects. All together, these projects will serve 170,400 people, of whom 42,000 live in camps for those who were forced by violence to flee their homes.

In northern Somalia, our Bossaso project brings clean water and appropriate sanitation, and teaches safe hygiene practices, to people living in camps. We first gained the cooperation of those who own the land where the camps are located, because they must approve any construction. Our team successfully negotiated with the landowners to allow the camp community to access the new water and sanitation facilities.

We then hired local people to build and maintain five beerkads – 10,000 liter concrete-lined water-holding tanks with taps – and 50 family or communal latrines. We established five waste disposal sites and, after developing and translating educational materials into the local language, taught safe hygiene and sanitation practices to 4,000 households. These projects will ultimately serve 20,000 people living in camps.